CUBA CENTRAL NEWS BRIEF: 06/15/2018

ICYMI: CDA STATEMENT: One-year anniversary of President Trump’s Cuba policy announcement 

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

U.S. and Cuba to meet for first Bilateral Commission meeting after withdrawal of embassy staff; Cuba’s Assessment of Health Incidents

The U.S. and Cuba met Thursday for the first Bilateral Commission meeting since the U.S. withdrew all non-essential personnel from its embassy in Havana in October 2017, NBC News reports. The first Bilateral Commission was held in 2015 and has convened a total of seven times since, including twice under President Trump. The talks, according to NBC News, are “the platform through which the U.S. and Cuba identify, prioritize, and schedule initiatives, including specific dialogues and working group meetings.”

The Cuban delegation, led by Carlos Fernández de Cossío Domínguez, Director General for U.S. Affairs in the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stressed that the reduction of consular services in both embassies is affecting thousands, and called for the lifting of the travel warning. The U.S. delegation was led by John Creamer, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and the delegation restated the need to find the source of “the attacks on U.S. diplomats and to ensure they cease.” According to a U.S. State Department spokesperson, “until it is sufficiently safe to fully staff our Embassy, [the U.S. government] will not be able to provide regular visa services in Havana.” Cuba insists it has found no evidence indicating the source or the cause of the incidents but is willing to cooperate.

On Sunday, June 10, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry released further details regarding the latest reports of health incidents at the U.S. embassy in Havana. The details reveal that a female embassy official heard sounds in her home and two days later reported experiencing “health symptoms.” Cuban investigators, including medical experts, searched the home but found no evidence of the source and were not permitted access to the embassy official herself, according to Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The U.S. evacuated two employees from Havana earlier this month, as well as at least two employees from its consulate in Guangzhou, China, as we reported last week. The most recent reports in Cuba are not, as of this week, medically confirmed.

The Bilateral Commission agreed to hold the next round of biannual Migration Talks and the Law Enforcement Dialogue this summer.

U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee passes agriculture bill with Cuba amendments

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee passed The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, a five-year farm bill that, this year, includes an amendment introduced by Senators John Boozman (AR) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND) to allow the use of trade promotion programs in Cuba, The Fence Post reports.

According to Senator Heitkamp, the “amendment gives USDA the ability to build reliable trade partnerships” between the U.S. and Cuba. With low-priced agricultural goods in the U.S. and uncertainty over the future of NAFTA, Cuba, which imports the majority of its food, offers an attractive market for U.S. farmers, who are legally permitted to sell their goods in Cuba under the Trade Sanctions and Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA).

TSRA permits agricultural exports from the U.S. to Cuba but requires payments of cash in advance. As we reported last week, Representatives Rick Crawford (AR-1), Tom Emmer (MN-6), and Roger Marshall (KS-1) are advancing legislation to allow for the use of credit in agricultural sales via the Cuba Agriculture Exports Act, HR 525, and/or to lift the embargo against Cuba via the Cuba Trade Act, HR 442.

Pennsylvania Joins Engage Cuba

On June 11, Pennsylvania became the 18th U.S. state to launch an Engage Cuba State Council, reports Engage Cuba. James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, stated that “Removing trade restrictions on Cuba could bring new opportunities to Pennsylvania’s agriculture, manufacturing, and other top export industries while creating jobs across the Commonwealth.” Pennsylvania’s port could offer easy transport of goods, and its renown dairy industry could supply Cuba with a portion of its dairy imports, which total $188 million, according to Engage Cuba. The state could also export industrial machinery, soybeans, corn, and poultry, all of which are in high demand in Cuba.

Pennsylvania and Cuba ties date back to 1916 when Milton Hershey established a settlement and sugar mill in a town in Cuba now known as Camilo Cienfuegos. “I believe that the relations between the United States and Cuba…it’s time for the embargo to end, it’s time for the isolationist policies to end” said State Representative Greg Rothman, “there is no reason why we should not diplomatically and economically reach back out to Cuba and begin a friendship between governments which already exists between the people.”

IN CUBA

Cuba’s President meet policy makers regarding foreign direct investment (FDI)

Yesterday, President Miguel Díaz-Canel met with key Cuban policymakers, including Ministers Rodrigo Malmierca, of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, and Ricardo Cabrisas, of Economy and Planning, to discuss foreign direct investment in Cuba. According to the Cuban news agency, ACN, the president directed each department and agency to conduct a “detailed analysis” of the primary impediments to foreign direct investment in Cuba. The results will be discussed in the next meeting with the Council of Ministers.

Cuba will reduce sugar imports, prioritize domestic consumption

Reuters, citing officials from Cuba’s sugar industry, reports that the country will start the harvesting season early after last season’s low yield. An official, interviewed by Reuters said that “what is going to be cut a little is exports, not national consumption.” Cuba consumes approximately 660,000 tons of sugar per year, and due to low yields in recent years, the national producer, state-monopoly AZCUBA, has been unable to meet the target export number. Recent flooding will likely impact yields for the 2019 season as well. We previously reported the expected yield of 1.1 million tons of raw sugar this year.

Cuba to improve and expand internet access

During the opening of the Sixth Latin American Telecommunications Congress in Varadero, Cuba’s Minister of Communications, Maimir Mesa said that the country is working to improve and expand internet access and expects internet access via mobile phones with 3G and 4G technology “soon,” reports Xinhua. According to La Vanguardia, Minister Mesa said that Cubans would enjoy universal access to internet but that the platform should not be used as a political destabilization tool.

Despite the high cost of access to the internet in Cuba (approximately 1 USD/hour), the National Statistics Office estimated that more than 4.5 million people, representing around 40 percent of the population used the internet in 2016. Google is increasingly active in Cuba; we recently reported on the visit of Google’s Eric Schmidt and U.S. Senator Jeff Flake and their meeting with President Miguel Díaz-Canel.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuba and India to sign agreements

India’s President Ram Nath Kovind will visit Cuba in a tour that will also include Greece and Suriname. The visit, later this month, will include the signature of four agreements in the medicine and pharmaceutical fields, Business Standard reports. President Kovind is expected to be received by President Miguel Díaz-Canel.

RECOMMENDED READING

A Local’s Guide to Havana, Heidi Hollinger, The Guardian

Hollinger, a visitor to Cuba over the course of 30 years, shares some of Havana’s best restaurants, hotels, art spaces, and more, from the popular Fábrica de Arte Cubano to a Soviet-style paladar. She encourages visitors to the island to explore the areas outside of the more tourist-oriented locations in Old Havana in order to get a feel for the varied demographic of Cuba’s people and the vibrant culture.

EVENTS IN WASHINGTON, D.C

DC Jazz Festival and The Kennedy Center present: Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, June 15, The Kennedy Center

Pianists Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba come together to present Trance, a “two-piano project” that joins together the well-known musicians, each representing his own generation of Cuban music. The performance will include pieces composed by both artists, and re-imagined versions of songs from a variety of different genres.

“Cuban Slugger,” an exhibition of Cuban artist Reynerio Tamayo, July 11-29, main lobby at Arena Stage at the Mead Center of American Theater

Just in time for the All-Star game at Nationals Park in Washington D.C., the Rodriguez Collection and the Caribbean Educational and Baseball Foundation (CEBF) along with Arena Stage will come together to present a collection of over 35 pieces of art by Cuban artist Reynerio Tamayo. Tamayo is a hyper-realist painter and contemporary caricaturist whose work features politics, athletes, comic book heroes, notorious gangsters, and art historical icons. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

Editor’s note: CDA is seeking candidates for our Fall 2018 internship! Please visit our website for information about how to apply. The deadline is July 15.

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